New Delhi | Jan, 8: Election Commission of India on Saturday announced dates for Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Punjab, and Uttarakhand were announced Saturday afternoon. Polling will be held over seven phases starting in UP on February 10, with counting of votes scheduled for March 10.
Uttar Pradesh will vote in each of the seven phases – on February 10, February 14, February 20, February 23, February 27, March 3, and March 7. Punjab, Goa, and Uttarakhand will vote on February 14. Manipur will vote in two phases – on February 27 and March 3. The BJP is in power in four of these states; the Congress is in power in Punjab.
The holding of timely election is the “essence of maintaining democratic governance,” Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said, as the top poll body defended its decision to go ahead with elections despite a frightening surge of COVID-19 cases in the third wave. India reported over 1.41 lakh new cases this morning – up 21 per cent from yesterday.
The Commission said it had decided to go ahead with the polls after detailed discussions with the Union Health and Home Secretaries, experts, and health officials of the concerned states.
As part of its Covid-safety rules, the Commission has banned all physical rallies, roadshows, and meetings till January 15. This order will be reviewed later since the “ground situation is dynamic”. No rallies or political campaign events will be allowed between 8 pm and 8 am every day.
All political parties have been urged to campaign digitally where possible, and limit activities in public. Door-to-door campaigning is limited to five people per campaigning team.
Voting hours in all states have been extended by an hour and only 1,250 people will be allowed per both. This means over 30,000 new booths – an increase of about 16 per cent – will be set up. Further, all polling stations will be equipped with sanitisers and staff will wear face masks.
Efforts are being made, the Election Commission said, to ensure maximum coverage of double vaccination for voters in each state; he said that over nine crore voters had received both shots. All polling staff have been double vaccinated and will get ‘precautionary’ doses.
A total of 18.34 crore people, including service voters, will take part in this election. Concern had been expressed over the increase in new cases as a result of the elections. The Allahabad High Court (in UP) earlier requested the Election Commission to consider postponing poll dates, but the request was turned down after meetings between poll body officials, those from the Health Ministry, and senior doctors from AIIMS and national drug regulator over the past week.